With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about how we plan to reform children’s social care.
My first visit in this role was to a children’s home in Hampshire. The young people I met were full of excitement and enthusiasm for the opportunities ahead. One wanted to be a hairdresser or perhaps a beautician—she was still deciding—and another was set to follow his dreams and join the Navy. They all wanted to have the same opportunities as their friends, and our job is to make sure that all children should have those opportunities. It is why levelling up was the guiding principle of our 2019 manifesto.
On this visit, I could not have seen a more vivid example of how our dedicated professionals can change young lives. I am sure all colleagues will join me in paying tribute to the phenomenal work of our social workers and family support workers, directors of children’s services, foster and kinship carers, children’s home staff and so many others across the country. It is thanks to them, as well as to children’s talent, resilience and determination to succeed, that many who have had a tough start in life go on to thrive.
While the care review, the child safeguarding practice review panel on the tragic deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, and the Competition and Markets Authority pointed to some good and innovative practice in children’s social care, they were also unequivocal in showing us that we are not delivering consistently enough for children and young people. These reviews provide us with a vision of how to do things differently, and how to help families overcome challenges at the earliest stage, keep children safe and ensure that those in care have loving and stable homes. I accept wholeheartedly their messages, and give special thanks to those who led and contributed—Josh MacAlister and his team, Annie Hudson and the rest of the panel, and the Competition and Markets Authority. Many thousands of people with lived and personal experience of the system also contributed and told their stories to these reviews, and I extend my heartfelt thanks to them for helping us to reach this point.
My hon. Friend Will Quince came to this House eight months ago and committed to action from day one to respond to the care review, and I commend him for all his work while he was the Minister for Children and Families. Since then, we have established a national implementation board, with members to advise, support and challenge us on the delivery of reform. We have set up a new child protection ministerial group to champion safeguarding at the highest levels. We have launched a data and digital solutions fund to unlock the potential of technology, and we have started work to increase foster care placements. This work, coupled with the direction of the reviews and successful initiatives such as the supporting families programme and the innovation programme, has provided us with the confidence to go further to achieve our ambitions for children.
I know both Houses and all parties support bold and ambitious reform. This Government are determined to deliver that, and I am pleased to announce that today we will publish our consultation and implementation strategy, “Stable Homes, Built on Love”, which sets out how we will achieve broad, system-wide transformation.
We want children to grow up in loving, safe and stable families where they can flourish. The Prime Minister recently spoke about the role of families in answering the profound questions we face as a country. Where would any of us be without our family? That is true for me and I am sure it is true for everybody. My parents, my brother, my sister and my wider family had a huge role in shaping who I am, and they continue to do so.
When children are not safe with their families, the child protection system should take swift and decisive action to protect children. Where children cannot stay with their parents, we should look first at wider family networks and support them to care for the child. Where a child needs to enter care, the care system should provide the same foundation of love, stability and safety. Over the next two years, we plan to address some urgent issues and lay the foundations for wider-reaching reform across the whole system. Our strategy is backed by £200 million of additional investment, so we can start reforms immediately and build the evidence for future roll-out. We know this is something that partners support, including local government. This investment builds on the £3.2 billion provided at the autumn statement for children and adult’s social care.
After that, we will look to scale up our new approaches and bring forward the necessary underpinning legislation, subject to parliamentary time. We will listen to those with experience of the system as we deliver. This starts today, as we consult on our strategy and the children’s social care national framework. Our strategy will focus on six pillars of action to transform the system. We will provide the right support at the right time, so that children thrive within their families and families stay together through our family help offer. We will strengthen our child protection response by getting agencies to work together in a fully integrated way, led by social workers with greater skills and knowledge. We will unlock the potential of kinship care so that, wherever possible, children who cannot stay with their parents are cared for by people who know and love them already. We will reform the care system to make sure we have the right homes for children in the right places. We must be ambitious for children in care and care leavers, and provide them with the right support to help them thrive and achieve their potential into adulthood. We will provide a valued, supported and highly-skilled social worker for every child who needs one, and make sure the whole system continuously learns and improves and makes better use of evidence and data.
I will set out some of our key activity over the next two years to deliver this shift. On family help, we will deliver pathfinders with local areas to test a model of family help, and integrated and expert child protection to make sure that we support family networks and help them get the early help they need. On child protection, we will consult on new child protection standards and improve leadership across local authorities, the police, health and education through updates to the statutory guidance, “Working Together”. On unlocking the benefits of alternatives to care, we will publish a national kinship care strategy by the end of 2023, and invest £9 million to train and support kinship carers before the end of this Parliament.
For children in care and care leavers, we will deliver a fostering programme to recruit and retain more foster carers, and path-find regional care co-operatives to plan, commission and deliver care places. We will fund practical help for care leavers by increasing the available leaving care allowance from £2,000 to £3,000, and strengthening our offers so children can stay with their foster carers or close to their children’s homes when they leave care. In recognition of the great work that foster carers do and the increasing costs of living, we are raising the national minimum allowance and foster carers will benefit from a 12.43% increase to that allowance. We will consult on strengthening and widening our corporate parenting responsibilities so that more public bodies provide the right support to care leavers.
On the workforce, we will bring forward a new early career framework to give social workers the right start, and support employers with a virtual hub sharing best practice. We will expand the number of child and family social worker apprentices by up to 500, and we will reduce our reliance on agency workers by consulting on national rules related to their use. For this system, we will assemble an expert forum to advise on how we make the most of the latest technology and publish a data strategy by the end of this year. We will introduce a children’s social care national framework to set out our system outcomes and expectations for practice, and align this with the work of Ofsted.
This strategy sets out a pathway towards fundamental, whole-system reform of children’s social care. We are rising to Josh MacAlister’s challenge to be ambitious, bold and broad for the sake of vulnerable children and families. I thank all those who guided us here, including my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford and my hon. and learned Friend Edward Timpson, who contributed so much along the journey.
Too many children and families have been let down, and we are determined to make the changes needed. We must remember the stories and the lives of Arthur and Star and the children who came before them. We must settle for nothing less than wide-reaching, long-lasting change. Today we set the direction of travel and make a pledge on a future system that will help to provide all vulnerable children with the start in life they deserve.
As the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, my hon. Friend Claire Coutinho, noted in November in the House, our ambition is to lay the foundations for a system built on love and family. I believe that this strategy and the actions we are taking now will deliver that. Family will be central to the way we deliver our ambitions. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of her statement. The independent review of children’s social care rightly called for a “radical reset” of a system it described as
“skewed to crisis intervention, with outcomes for children that continue to be unacceptably poor and costs that continue to rise.”
The review was necessary because we have had more than a decade of the erosion of services for children and young people in which poverty and inequality have been increasing; preventive services have been stripped away, while the need for crisis interventions has rocketed; and Sure Start centres have closed, while private providers of children’s homes and foster placements have raked in huge profits and teenagers have been placed in unregulated care settings, where 29 have tragically died in the last five years.
I pay tribute to social workers, foster carers, kinship carers, youth workers, directors of children’s services and all who work with the most vulnerable children and their families and advocate for them, especially those who use their own, often painful, experiences of the care system to give voice to the needs of others. Across the country, they will be left asking of today’s plan, “Is this really it?” While some additional funding is welcome, this is not the radical reset that the review demanded and that we need. There is no vision for the direction of children’s social care. There is no ambition for our most vulnerable children. There is no cross-cutting commitment from the top of Government to deliver better for every child and every care-experienced person in every part of our country. This Government have spent months legislating to restrict the fundamental rights to protest and to strike, but they have chosen not to make time to legislate to strengthen protections for children.
The disadvantage and discrimination suffered by care-experienced people is a deep injustice, yet there is no plan of the scale and ambition needed to address the structural issues that fail them so appallingly. Kinship carers have been badly let down by a system that has never properly been designed to support them. While more support for kinship carers is welcome, this plan falls far short of what they need.
There is a workforce crisis in children’s social care, but there is no commitment to a broader workforce plan. Last year, the 20 biggest private providers of children’s homes and private foster placements made £300 million in profits. The Government’s own data shows that six in 10 councils are spending more than three quarters of their funding for residential placements with private providers—providers such as the Hesley Group, where a placement costs £250,000, but instead of high-quality care and support, children were subjected to horrific abuse. I welcome the consultation on national rules for the use of agency social workers, but where is the plan to end the grotesque profiteering in children’s social care and ensure that funding is always spent on the best-quality care and support?
Thirteen years of Conservative Government have been a disaster for our most vulnerable children and their families. Hundreds of thousands of children have grown up in a care system that has failed them. They will not get their childhood back. Does the Secretary of State think that today’s announcements will support improvements in the 43% of children’s services departments currently rated inadequate or requiring improvement? What will the impact be on kinship carers currently gripped by the cost of living crisis? How will the measures announced today deliver meaningful support to 16 and 17-year-olds currently placed in unregulated settings? What meetings has she had with other Government Departments whose policies play a role in the disadvantage and discrimination suffered by care-experienced people?
When will profiteering by providers of children’s homes and foster placements end? How will these piecemeal measures ensure that we see a transformative change in the way we support our most vulnerable children and that the aim of long-lasting, loving relationships for every child is the driving force at the heart of children’s services everywhere? Finally, does the Secretary of State really believe that this is enough?
I think I made it clear that this is the start of the journey, to lay the foundations for wider whole-system reform. Many people have had good intentions in this area. Many initiatives have been started after a review. Many things have been tried, and many things have not worked. We need this to be evidence-led. These are very complex cases and situations, and we need evidence to see what really works, not just good intentions, which everybody has in this area. This is the start of that, through the implementation plan. We must put families at the heart of that and change the whole purpose of the system, which is not really focused on trying to get people the help they need, as opposed to just intervening and telling them what they ought to be doing. We need to help people in the first instance to stay with families.
The hon. Lady mentioned the work that had been done on local authority intervention and improvement. Every local authority has specific needs and circumstances, but we have done a lot of work in this area, including a programme to improve the performance of local authorities, which are key to delivering these services on the ground. Since 2017, the programme has provided immediate support to local authorities. The number of inadequate local authorities has gone from 30 down to 14, and the number of local authorities that are good or outstanding in this area has gone from 54 to 85.
For the first time, there is an investment in kinship carers, specifically in training and help to support them, and of course local authorities currently provide a wide range of support to kinship carers. The hon. Lady mentioned excessive profiteering by some children’s homes. We will be introducing a new financial oversight regime, because we are determined to make sure we cut that out. It is unacceptable.
I welcome some aspects of this, particularly the extension of the ECF to the children’s social care workforce and the trebling of bursaries for apprenticeships, which I know will be welcomed by the John Lewis Partnership; it has been making great efforts in this space and said to me only the other day that the bursary was welcome but did not go nearly far enough. I also welcome the support for kinship carers, but I urge the Secretary of State to go further on this and to use the kinship care strategy to ensure that they have greater legal status.
My Select Committee will want to look into the detail of the financial arrangements announced today, so will the Secretary of State or a Minister attend the Committee in fairly short order to go into more detail on that? In particular, our Select Committee has called previously for greater scrutiny of the finances of some children’s care homes, and after the scandal we have seen at the Hesley Group homes, it is not before time.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and for the important work that he and his Committee will be doing in this area. I am sure we will be happy to work with them. I am full of admiration for kinship carers, who step up to provide a safe, stable and loving home for children who can no longer live full-time with their parents. The care review made a series of bold and ambitious recommendations aimed at increasing the number of children who can remain within their family network. We have made a commitment to implement and explore each one of those recommendations, including, as I said, with £9 million to offer support for training in the spending review period and more than £45 million to begin implementing the family network support packages, through the Families First for Children pathfinder. So there will be more work done in this area.
Like my hon. Friend, as I call him, the Chair of the Select Committee on Education, I would welcome seeing the Secretary of State appear before us at her earliest convenience, so that we can talk through the implications of this announcement. As much as I respect and like her, I cannot help thinking that the shackles of the Treasury have been around her while she has made this announcement this morning. Josh MacAlister called for the implementation of his review recommendations, which were costed at about £2.6 billion—I think that was a conservative estimate, given the scale of need that lies before us. The Secretary of State rightly said at the end of her statement:
“Too many children and families have been let down in the past”.
I cannot help thinking that while these pilots play out and while only 75 authorities out of 151 have family hubs, we will be letting down families and children for years into the future until we can fully implement the recommendations of the MacAlister review. Far too many youngsters end up in our care system and far too many of them subsequently end up in the criminal justice system. We have to stop that pipeline, and urgency and resource are much needed; “too little, too late” could be one way of interpreting Josh MacAlister’s view that we need work “faster and more urgently”.
Obviously the size of the investment that Josh MacAlister set out was bolder, but it was a five-year plan. What we are doing is laying the foundations, with two years’ spending, to make sure that we can build the evidence through a test and learn approach. We want to ensure that the interventions are rolled out, and are systematic and system-wide reform. There have been lots of initiatives, but we need to do this right. As the hon. Gentleman says, many people rely on us when we—the Government, the state—are their parent, and we need to make sure that we do a better job. We accept that, but we need to make sure we do this right. Many people have tried, but there have been many, many times when it has not worked, so we need to do it effectively. This is a two-year programme, and we will be coming forward with more after that.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome this policy as far as it goes, particularly the fact that the Secretary of State is not going to rely on excessive legislation, which caused so many problems rather than offering solutions before 2010. She did not say anything about adoption and sibling groups. She is aware that adoption rates have fallen back to near what they were when we brought in the adoption reforms of 2010. What is she going to do to turbocharge adoption levels again?
Secondly, the Children’s Commissioner has revealed that 37% of sibling groups are still split when they go into the care system—into homes or into adoption. A little pot of money and a little creative thinking, for example on providing funding for expanding bedroom space in the homes of foster carers or prospective adopters, could go a long way to preventing an important aspect of stability for sibling groups from falling down. Will the Minister say something on either of those important points?
My hon. Friend has a great deal of experience in this area and he puts his finger on one of the core problems when siblings are involved. It is about trying to ensure that the places fit those with complex needs and wider family groups. That is one thing we will focus on in growing the number of fostering and adoption places.
In July 2020, we published a new adoption strategy, “Achieving excellence everywhere”, to improve adopter recruitment, matching and support services. In March 2022, we announced that the Government were investing £160 million over the next three years to deliver the strategy. The regional adoption agency leaders are developing a new framework of national standards, which will mean that services are delivered to the same high quality across the country. So there is more work to do.
I, too, refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
How utterly underwhelming this statement is. We have the usual piecemeal, short-change measures for just a few chosen areas, in the naive assumption that more carers will suddenly become available. Far, far worse than that is the total disregard for those in care aged 16 and above. They are children in care of the state. They are being placed by this Government in unregulated, unsafe hostels, bed and breakfasts, shared homes, caravan parks, tents and campsites on their own. More than 20 of these children have died. Can the Secretary of State explain why these children do not matter to her and this Government?
I regret the hon. Lady’s tone, because everybody cares about children’s lives; everybody in this House cares to do their best for the most vulnerable children in our society. We are bringing forward new national standards to make sure that we have the right type of care homes and the right places that will keep our children safe. We are also investing £30 million in family finding pathfinders. She would do well to follow the progress of that and work with us to make sure that, as all of us want, we do the very best for the most vulnerable children in our society.
I join other Members in welcoming the range of commitments made in today’s statement in response to the care review, not least the £200 million of funding, which I suspect was hard fought for, that will go towards improving family help, family finding, mentoring and other key areas.
May I urge my right hon. Friend, in taking this important work forward, to be conscious of two things? The first is that in 2014 we had another £200 million innovation programme, where a number of important projects, such as Mockingbird, No Wrong Door and Families First, were proved to give positive outcomes for many children, and they are being rolled out across the country. We must not end up reinventing the wheel in the next few months and years in trying to understand what we perhaps already know.
Secondly, the key to this will be leadership, not just in Whitehall but locally. This is an opportunity to try to improve some of the quality of leadership in local councils, at not only director level but team leader level. Some of that funding can go a long way in ensuring that the culture that needs to be prominent in every local authority is being led by the very best.
My hon. and learned Friend makes a very good point, and I know he has a lot of experience in this area. He is absolutely right to say that the evidence- led trials that were done in the innovation programme, the Mockingbird programme, have delivered fantastic results. We will be rolling that out further, and there is investment behind the retention and recruitment of foster carers of £25 million—that will include Mockingbird.
The children who end up in our social care system are, of course, some of the most vulnerable children in our society. It is incumbent on all of us to put the utmost protection and care in place for them. The Secretary of State says that she is
“rising to Josh MacAlister’s challenge”.
He recommended a fundamental reset, but her announcements are a piecemeal approach that barely commit one tenth of the money that he was suggesting is needed. So I am afraid that although there are good intentions behind these announcements, they barely scratch the surface. Politics is about choices, and I am deeply saddened, and I suspect that in her heart of hearts the Education Secretary is also saddened, that the Treasury has bound her in this way.
Kinship carers will welcome the new investment in training and the promise of a national strategy, but will the Secretary of State explain how exploring the case for a financial allowance is any different from the usual Government line of keeping policies “under review”, when a third of kinship carers cannot even afford to clothe their children and they are struggling to put food on the table? How is a national strategy and some training going to help those kinship carers?
I assure the hon. Lady that we will report back within a year on the pathways that we are exploring; that is a priority. I welcome her words about how we all care about doing this. It is not that people have not tried before, but I am proud of our work because this is the first time that we have had a whole-system reform of our children’s social care service. That was in our manifesto, and we are intent on doing it properly. It is very complex, it requires lots of people to work together, and we have to ensure we do it right. This is a two-year programme; Josh MacAlister set out a five-year programme. We are at the start, laying the foundations for the further work that we will bring forward.
I thank the Secretary of State and the Children’s Minister—the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Claire Coutinho—for all their work. There is a lot in it that will help to protect children, keep families together where possible and support social workers. I specifically welcome the increase in the apprenticeship bursary for care leavers. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need more universities and employers to take on care leavers? Although they may have had a very difficult start in life, they have huge potential, but it often goes unfulfilled.
Absolutely. It is vital that we support care leavers as they journey into adulthood. We are increasing bursaries for care leavers from £2,000 to £3,000 and increasing the apprenticeship bursary that my hon. Friend mentions from £1,000 to £3,000. That comes on top of the existing bursaries for further education and university. It is also very important that we support access to work. We have a care leavers board, and we will be working to ensure that many more businesses take their duties to care leavers as seriously as the excellent businesses that have been mentioned, such as John Lewis.
Bristol City Council, with the help of funding from the Department for Education, is setting up two new care homes: one for children with complex mental health needs, and another for adolescent boys with challenging behaviour who are involved in the criminal justice system and are at risk of exploitation. That will ensure that they do not end up being placed outside the city. It is obviously a very good move, but the number of young people in care in Bristol is predicted to rise by 5% next year alone, so we know that needs will increase. What are the Government doing to support local authorities to expand in-house provision even further and to tackle profiteering by private providers so that we can ensure that children are safe in our hands?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. Bristol City Council is obviously doing a good job of using the funding. We have £259 million in funding to build more children’s care homes and make sure that they meet area-specific needs—more complex needs, in some cases—and that they are closer to home. We are also encouraging local authorities: we will be working on a pathfinder for regional co-operative boards, because we recognise that it is sometimes easier to get a number of local authorities to work together on more specialised provision.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement and all those who work in the children’s social care sector for their incredibly important work. My right hon. Friend knows that many of the failings in children’s social care, including in my area, are a result of a lack of political leadership. Will her reforms go further and hold local political leaders to account?
My hon. Friend always champions the cause of improvements in his local area and to his local council. We will work with poorly performing councils through our regions group. We have done a lot of that work, which since 2017 has more than halved the number of inadequate children’s services from 30 to 14. Where services are poor, we will continue to act until we get them up to the standards required.
The proposals include a significantly increased focus on early intervention and prevention so that young people can stay in their family home for as long as possible. That may well be a noble endeavour, but it raises questions about the pressure that it will put on frontline social workers to leave potentially vulnerable children in their home for longer. What additional training will there be for frontline social workers to ensure that robust and appropriate decision making is in place around intervention thresholds, so that any child who is too vulnerable in their family home will be placed into safety?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. We need to focus on families and ensure that we give them every opportunity to stay together, so we will have family hubs, the Supporting Families programme and a real focus on early help, but he is absolutely right that the decisions that social workers have to make are immense. We want to give them more support, so we will bring forward an early career framework. We will also work in a multi-agency way so that police, education professionals and many others are always there to help with the difficult decisions and make sure that the data is shared more effectively.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. She made a point about the importance of prevention and early intervention; does she agree that what those things demand is good-quality joint working between children’s social services and local health services, particularly on mental health provision? We have family hubs and we have relationships with child and adolescent mental health services, but we need to do a lot more to get joint working to work locally.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; that is one of the real focuses of family hubs. I have seen a number of family hubs that do a great job of offering support to anybody up to the age of 19 and to any families eligible. They have all the services there, from midwifery services to mental health services, addiction services and domestic abuse services, and that is absolutely the focus. [Interruption.] An Opposition Member says, “Like Sure Start.” The main difference between Sure Start and the family hubs is that Sure Start went up to the age of only five, whereas family hubs go up to the age of 19 or, for those with special educational needs, 25. They are also a universal service: anybody is eligible. Anybody can need help at any time when they are bringing up a family, from the start of their journey to the teenage years and beyond. The family hubs will do a much broader job and make sure that our interventions work.
I am interrogating the new document, which is hefty. The MacAlister review was explicit that children’s social care was spiralling “out of control”—it was that stark. The report makes a clear case for wholesale reform, costed at £2.6 billion, as the Secretary of State knows, so today’s £200 million falls a long way short of what it says is required.
Children cannot wait. The Secretary of State spoke about a kinship care strategy, but those proposals could have been in her document today. She says that it is a priority, but it will be almost a year before we see any meaningful proposals in that space. Will she rush them through so that we can get allowances and other measures in place for families as soon as possible? Will she commit central Government to directly funding all the new measures announced today so that the costs do not fall on cash-strapped councils? Why have the Government not accepted the recommendation to make “care leaver” a protected characteristic?
Just so that everybody is clear, the actual amount that we spend on children’s social care is £10.8 billion—a lot of funding goes into children’s social care. As I said, Josh MacAlister has welcomed today’s announcement and the foundations that we are putting in place, but this is a two-year pathfinder to lay the foundations; his recommendations cover a five-year period. We intend to bring the recommendations forward quickly, and kinship carers are very much a priority.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly the focusing of the Government’s efforts on what will make the biggest difference to the largest number of children. The Government’s intention is to go with the grain of the work done in the sector, which has led to the vast majority of English local authorities getting an above-the-line judgment from Ofsted. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important things we can do is use the evidence, particularly from Government-funded What Works centres, so we know that money is being spent on things that will definitely make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable children? With Sure Start, for example, a great deal of money was unfortunately squandered on things that did not make a transformational difference in children’s lives.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There have been many attempts to do this, but the evidence gathered from Sure Start showed the programme was not always well directed and its interventions did not work very well. The What Works programme is important because it is not just about spending money or about buildings. It is about being led by the evidence of what works, and that is what we will be putting together.
There is no reason why the Secretary of State would know, but I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on kinship care. More importantly, I am a kinship carer for my four-year-old grandson, Lyle. My wife and I are his special guardians, so kinship care is a subject very close to our hearts. I thank Josh MacAlister for engaging with the all-party parliamentary group as part of his review.
The strategy recognises that there are variations between local authorities in their financial support for kinship carers, and that it is unfair and inadequate. Too many families who have stepped up to raise children who would otherwise be in the care system are missing out on vital support. What steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that practice for assessing the needs of carers is both fair and consistent, irrespective of the local authority in which a kinship family live? As she brings forward proposals on kinship care, will she work with me, with colleagues on both sides of the House and with the all-party parliamentary group so that we get this right?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question and for the role he plays in his family, which I am sure is greatly appreciated by everyone.
We have written to councils today to ask them to review their kinship care arrangements, and to make sure they know we will be looking to ensure that we have the right support for kinship carers. They have the most invaluable role, and we want to grow and support that role. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman on that.
Joanne Strickland and Maxine Wainwright are kinship carers in Ashfield. They put their lives on hold to provide stable and loving homes for their child relatives, but they have come across many barriers to getting the benefits to which they are entitled. Will this social care strategy help to stop this jobsworth mentality and red-tape nonsense, to help families get the financial support they deserve much quicker?
We are grateful to people like my hon. Friend’s constituents for all the work they do. Indeed, we want to make it possible for more people to take on this vital role. In our strategy, we have committed to exploring the implementation of a financial allowance for kinship carers during the next Parliament but, working with local authorities, we will make sure it is much easier to be a kinship carer and that kinship carers are better supported.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. As she said, it is important to remember that kinship care is built on love. Funding for kinship carers has reduced by a fifth in recent years, and there has also been covid-19. Will she make investment available to keep families together? Such investment will always pay dividends because healthier, happier children become functioning, happy adults.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and it is why our focus is on early intervention through the supporting families programme and family hubs. We will continue to roll them out, and we will continue to make sure that we test what works. We will make sure we do everything we can to keep families together.
Being a children’s social worker is a challenging job. Identifying signs of abuse or the needs of a family are very difficult, so building a relationship over a long period of time is vital, but vulnerable children often live in chaotic households. They often move home, frequently between boroughs. It is vital that data is passed from one borough to another, but the relationship and knowledge that have been built up cannot be passed on. How will my right hon. Friend make sure these chaotic families and vulnerable children get the support they need?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and it is what makes this area difficult. Certain aspects of complex cases can be concealed, so it takes the skill and experience of our fantastic social workers. We also need to do a much better job of sharing information between agencies. Different agencies will often have different pieces of the puzzle—data that may be concerning —but the picture becomes much clearer when the whole thing is put together. That is why we are making sure that multidisciplinary teams continue to develop so that they work even better together and share more data.